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Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II
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Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  858 ratings  ·  62 reviews
The former German U-boat commander Herbert Werner navigates readers through the waters of World War II, recounting four years of the most significant and savage battles. By war's end, 28,000 out of 39,000 German sailors had disappeared beneath the waves.
Paperback, 388 pages
Published June 6th 2002 by Da Capo Press (first published November 30th 1968)
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Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry SontagEscape from the Deep by Alex KershawIron Coffins by Herbert A. WernerWahoo by Richard H. O'KaneClear the Bridge! by Richard H. O'Kane
Best Submarine Nonfiction Books
3rd out of 30 books — 31 voters
The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaThe Trial by Franz KafkaAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueFaust by Johann Wolfgang von GoethePerfume by Patrick Süskind
Best German/Austrian Literature
229th out of 520 books — 487 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,610)
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Rob
This book is an incredible true story about a U-boat captain who survived the entire war, one of about two dozen to do so. I had previously read Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim many times, which describes the German point of view of the Battle of the Atlantic circa late 1941. Iron Coffins completed the picture, and showed both the early phase of the battle, when the U-boats nearly swept the Allied convoys from the Atlantic, and the end-game phase of the battle when most U-boat crews were sla ...more
Fire-fish
The best war story of all times. A story by a man who was a german submarine captain and survived... it is more then a story of the war: it is a story of challenge, accomplishment, love, complete loss, and discovery .. at the setting of an immanent death.
Brian
The U-505 in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry looks like the pride of the hobbit navy.

It's customary to give statistics in a book like this -- though Herbert Werner thankfully confines his to an engineering diagram -- so here goes: The pressure hull of a Type IXC U-boat is just over 192 feet long and just under 14.5 feet wide. Given that the average American man is 5'9 1/2" with an arm span to match, you could theoretically fit two guys standing fingertip-to-fingertip across the beam of
...more
John Onoda


I’ve read a number of books about German U boats in World War 2 and this is the best of them. The author is one of a handful of Uboat commanders who survived the war. He gives a very detailed account of what conditions were like inside the 5 ships he served in.

Unlike what is presented in most movies, life inside a U boat was rather hellish, not because of discipline or harshness, but because the ship was a hot, filthy, smelling tube of metal containing 50 men, water, fumes, dangerous gases, mac
...more
John Humber
When I was a boy of about 13 a Royal Navy submarine came to the port where I lived. This was unusual as it was a commercial and fishing port rather than a naval port. There was an open day and it was possible to go aboard the submarine. I was fascinated and have remained fascinated by submarines ever since.

Because it was a port my home town was heavily bombed and my generation (post-war baby-boomers) grew up with empty, derelict spaces in the streets where bombs had fallen. Largely because of th
...more
Edward
This is decent read, but take some parts with a grain of salt. For example, he claims to taken part in the attack on Convoy SC122 and says that U239 sunk several ships. But U230 not recorded as having sunk anything in this convoy. In fact, there is no record of U239 actually attacking the convoy, though he peripherally took part in the operation. "Iron Coffins" contains less details about life on U Boats than about his travels on leave through France and Germany. I would have liked to see more ...more
Tomi
What a hard book to read - not that it isn't eminently readable, because it is. But it also drew me in to the point of hoping the narrator (a U-boat commander in WWII) would be safe...even though he was sinking Allied ships! This book helped me see what it was like for an ordinary German serviceman during the war (although every time he was upset with "the enemy" I muttered, "You guys started it!"). Werner explained how obedience and duty are ingrained in the German people; so when the U-boats w ...more
Nick
The Authors purpose for writing this book is informative. I was thinking that reading this book would be like reading a text book. It was more like reading a good story that wasn't a real life story. This is about how the people where working on the German U boats and the ridiculous things that the German Generals would tell them to do. The author wrote this book along the lines of historical fiction. The main character was a person who was inside the German U boats. He was on his boat on D-Day ...more
Tyler Hughes
The book I read was “Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-boat Battles of World War II” by Herbert A. Werner. The book is a non-fiction book about a personal life on a German submarine. Life on the U-Boat was crowded and tiring. There was not much moving space in the U-boat so if there was an emergency you had to be ready. Life on the U-boat you required you to be ready to fight unexpectedly. Because of this they would run drills a lot which means they would wake you up.

The author’
...more
Nevrlost
A very complete book of the various stages of the Battle of the Atlantic from the perspective of a U-boat captain that survived. As with many WWII books, various aspects of training, equipment capabilities, and tactics are presented throughout the book. What I was unaware of was how intense the attacks on U-boats by Allied forces were during the last stages of the war. It was a miracle for any U-boat just to make it out to sea and return to base safely.
Matteo Di giovanni
La prima cosa che viene in mente dopo aver letto questo libro è: "che fortuna!" Werner infatti rende benissimo l'idea di come la vita di un sommergibilista al fronte fosse davvero appesa ad un sottilissimo filo che si sarebbe potuto spezzare da un momento all'altro in situazioni in cui la salvezza, pur essendo fortemente condizionata dall'abilità dell'equipaggio, era determinata il più delle volte dal caso. Infatti, molti camerati di Werner non sono sopravvissuti a eventi che hanno invece fortun ...more
Jonathan
Absolutely phenomenal, amazingly written and such a page turning story. Truly one of the best memoirs I have ever read. A no holds barred look at the U-Boat war from the happy times to the last desperate gasps. Highly recommended.
Christine
Engrossing, particularly toward the end when it becomes increasingly clear that the Axis is getting pummeled and the author is being ordered to undertake what amount to suicide missions. And the post-surrender chapter, which deals with prison camp life and his escapes, is fascinating.

I would have preferred less nostalgia about the bordellos and more description of what day-to-day life on the boat was like. (I was expecting the book to be more like Das Boot in this respect.) Thirty to sixty days
...more
Klemens
Książka niewątpliwie znana fanom tematyki, często także oceniana bardzo wysoko.
Czyta się ją bardzo szybko - poznajemy wojenne/okołowojenne losy bohatera/autora, jego przyspieszone dorastanie, walkę w marynarce dla swojej ojczyzny (wraz z kolejnymi stopniami kariery), jego miłości, rozterki, a w końcu gorycz porażki i powojenne koleje losu.
Często w szczegółach poznajemy codzienne życie podwodniaków służących na U-Bootach - kurczące się zapasy paliwa i jedzenia, przenikliwe zimno, okropny gorąc, n
...more
Gossymotto
This was an incredible book. Hearing the story from someone that was on the loosing side of a war (Is there really a "winning" side?), makes the account much cleaner. There is no posturing, no propaganda, It's simply a soldier's story of how he believed in his country and how he believed he was fighting the good fight and victory would be Germany's because they were the "good guys" just like Britain was convinced that they were right and noble.

As the war drags on though, Werner begins to see thi
...more
Doug
This true tale starts out dry and matter-of-fact, but gathers force in the middle part of the narrative. As adversity mounted, so did my engagement with the story. Herbert Werner is nearly unique in living through the entire U-Boat war and rising from cadet to commander in the process. His luck is positively amazing, given the hundreds of other boats that, in situations exactly like his, were sunk. The view of the war through German eyes is interesting (compare to Guy Sajer's better-written The ...more
Cam Nelson
Simply amazing. In a league with Remarque and Juenger... probably superior to them both if one actually sits down and reads their works and compares them to Werner. Nevermind what apprehensions one might have about reading a war memoir, especially one entitled "Iron Coffins"; Werner's book is a moving story of survival and heartbreak both at sea, in port, and on the homefront. The number of times Werner cheated death and escaped from the Allies defies belief. The descriptions of life in port in ...more
Nadir
This is an excellent personal history of the German U-Boat war during World War II. Much of their operational technique is discussed and in that regard it is very enlightening. Their early successes where they seem to sink Allied shipping at will is matched by their very rapid demise beginning in mid 1943. Their staggering losses after that are such that the reader is amazed their crews continued to leave port.

While the book is entirely about the service of a single German sailor, the book tell
...more
Bill
Gives an interesting perspective and contrast to the way the WWII use of submarines in the Pacific.
TheF7Pawn
Read it as a high schooler. Gripping. Scared the bejeebers out of me.
Robert Lewter
Wow! What a classic. I have read U-boat commanders accounts from WWI, but this is the first from WWII.I knew that the Allies put a beat down on the German Navy, but I had no idea that the German U-boat Fleet was almost totally annihilated. This mans story was truly enthralling. I can see why this book had been read so much that some of the pages had to be taped to stay in. If you are even mildly interested in WWII history, this is a book you should read.
Lisa
My co-worker, Jay, recommended this book to me and I enjoyed it very much. Herbert Werner was an amazing person, and this book succeeds because of his matter-of-fact voice combined with his experiences as a U-Boat captain and his survival. Mr. Werner doesn't embellish his experiences, but lets them stand on their own merits. One of the best books I've read about the experience of war by those who have fought it.
Pete
Iron Coffins is an excellent memoir about being in a German U-boat during WWII. Werner describes the incredible conditions that the U-boat crews underwent and provides an interesting view of France and Germany during WWII.

The books account of how anyone could tolerate the conditions and survive being in a U-boat is well worth reading for anyone interested in WWII.
Mike
Nov 06, 2007 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History folk
Shelves: top-shelf, history
I read this one after reading Shadow Divers.
It made me look at war and the people who fight wars in a whole different way.
By the end of this book I found myself cursing the British and American forces, and had to remind myself which side I was on.
This story could have been written about any sub crew from either side of the war. Wonderfully written and enlightening
Mark
I love a good sea story, and this is one of the best. Captain Werner covers his entire wartime career in a narrative that reads like a potboiler. Mixing stories of wartime patrols with the downtime while in port for refitting of his submarine, the reader gets a sense of what life on a U-Boat must have been like. If you enjoyed Das Boot, this is a must-read.
Lisa
A personal account of life as a WWII U Boat crew member. From that perspective, it's a great book. Almost no mention of any culpability on the part of the Germans. It's a bit ironic that when he fears to be captured by the Allies and expects rough treatment, which would be luxurious by the standards of prisoners of the Germans.

Still, a very interesting read.
Jeanna
An account of WWII's war of the Atlantic from the perspective of one of the few surviving German U-Boat captains. Filled with evocative descriptions, action sequences, a slice of history I have not seen described anywhere else. This has been a favorite book of mine for 25 years, and it has lost none of its power over time.
Peter
If you liked "Das Boot" you will like this. Its that movie in text. Riding claustrophobic tubes under hundreds of feet of water. Submariners--tougher than nails.
Alex
Really interesting read about the Battle of the Atlantic from the German perspective. Also good glimpses into life on the home front in Germany and occupied France. Would have loved to see more detail on his post WWII life - after returning to Germany and later emigrating to the US.
Gavin
Mar 31, 2009 Gavin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: war
One has to keep in mind that their communications were being read by the Ultra people, so when he says that the Allies' improved radar, aircraft and countermeasures led to the destruction of the German navy, think instead that it was because the boats' locations were known.
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462647
Herbert Werner was a Kriegsmarine naval officer who (by his own reckoning), was one of only about "two dozen captains still alive" at the end of World War II. He served in five U-boats, as an Ensign, Executive Officer and Captain in the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, the North Sea, the Baltic, the Norwegian Sea and the Mediterannean.

He survived the sinking of U-612 in the Baltic and the loss
...more
More about Herbert A. Werner...
Döden från djupet Eisiger Atlantik: Die Eisernen Särge / Feindfahrten

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